Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oh, I'm on a mini-break, didn't I mention that? In the meantime, transfix yourself on this image: it's Husker Du ca. 1983. Despite looking like a badly-dressed criminal line-up from the 1970s, at this stage the band was a raging beast, one just starting to shed its hardcore roots and move into a more expansive direction. For me this shot is a great equation of musical inspiration + zero fashion sense: an encapsulation of the SST "ethic", if ever there was. Maybe I'll bore the piss out of you all by writing about it once again...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sweet lawdy mama, this clip above is a shining example of the wonders of the interwebs; Youtube, specifically. And if you understand that broken-English sentence, then you may understand where I'm coming from. Regardless of the internet, that performance above happened; but now we can all enjoy it in the year 2012 and beyond. It's the mighty BONGWATER - an outfit who were near top of the pile for moi ca. 1990-'93 - performing on jazz fuzak practitioner David Sanborn's Night Music program in, what, 1988? 1989? 1990?? I don't know the date, I'm just taking a vaguely educated stab in the dark (using such judgment tools as the material played, clothes worn and the size of Sanborn's bouffant). Sanborn has released a bunch of terrible music in his lifetime, but I'll give him credit for hosting (and I assume curating, in some sense) what must've been a pretty cool show back in the day; I've seen a clip of The Feelies playing on the program, too, and I'm assuming that's just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway! Interestingly, in this clip, firstly you'll see the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir interviewed by The Bouffant, before the audience gets thrown to a wild live performance by da 'Water live in the studio, with none other than Screamin' Jay Hawkins singing - and a Roky Erickson cover at that. Are you still with me here? Good. Thought your mind might've been SO BLOWN AWAY by all these factoids that you'd passed out. And just to add several extra levels of strangeness, Weir himself, and his Hootie & The Blowfish/Dave Matthews Band lookalike backing band, accompany Kramer & co. in their performance... and why did I just explain all of this to you?! You can just watch the clip, and I'm expecting you will, unless you happen to think that Bongwater and all those other nyuk-nyuk bong-jam hippie bands Kramer had a hand in producing or playing with (Shockabilly, B.A.L.L., Dogbowl, etc.) were a giant bowl of stinkin' shinola and that his Shimmy-Disc label represented the biggest load of artistic indulgence from a record company owner this side of SST's past two decades of releases... and if you do, THEN DON'T WATCH IT. You know my feeling on the Kramer/Shimmy-Disc legacy, surely? Maybe try here or here or here. On with the show!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Expending energy discussing a mid/late-career Sonic Youth album on a blog can probably get you fired in some quarters, on charges of vagrancy and irrelevancy, but for reasons unknown, I feel an urge to spill - maybe just a little - the virtual ink on this here rekkid. NYC Ghosts & Flowers was released in 2000. At that rather miserable point in my life, I was suffering the indignity of working at Borders. I can say what I please about that particular outlet, as I have no fear of professional blowback, since it doesn't happen to exist anymore. It went the way of the dinosaurs, which I would regard as justice for you and me. I endured 8 months as a low-paid employee, suffering the indignity of working obscenely early/late hours for but a pittance, and worst of all, suffering its customers. But a dozen years later, w/ the passing of time, I can look back and laugh and at least appreciate several life-long friends I made at the place... and why the fuck am I getting so wistful here and where am I going with this? Of course, it's all about Sonic Youth. The band's album I wish to speak of was released when I was employed there. I have spoken of this before, but I shall repeat: throughout the entire decade known as the 1990s, I barely gave any of Sonic Youth's records a spin. Not even the "classic" pre-major '80s material, records which I had treasured in a previous life (high school). They were a band who'd fallen off the map for moi, a band who seemed to release an endless tally of records I couldn't care for (Goo/Dirty/Experimental Jet Set.../Washing Machine/A Thousand Leaves... there were a lot of them!) and seemed destined to never call it a day. After all, it beats working for a living.
Well, Kim & Thurston are no more, and the band is also on the skids, but if you've been following this blog for more than 5 minutes, you might've read that I had some sort of strange revelation earlier last decade which for some reason had me investigating all the SY discs I'd ignored for 10 years prior. Mr (re)evaluation had me eating words previously uttered and hailing just about all of those said discs as PRETTY FINE INDEED. But that's another entry... for the time being, it's back to NYC Ghosts & Flowers. As a "music consultant" at Borders, I was expected to play on a semi-regular basis a "recent release" for the enjoyment of the worthless mouth-breathers known as customers. The choices in regards to anything of recent vintage which didn't make me want to vomit in my mouth (or which were considered even remotely playable instore) were slim, so I picked the latest from The Yoof. I played it often, I played it a lot. It stuck. Not only is it relatively quiet and sparse - so much so that not a single square complained - but it happens to be one of the band's finest and most under-rated outings. Those nudniks at Pitchfork apparently awarded it 0.0 - a badge of honour the band should wear w/ pride - although for me it works a whole lot better than the two prior albums by the band (1995's Washing Machine and '98's A Thousand Leaves) as an album fully realised; those two other platters I speak of I like, a lot, but they're also filled out w/ several aimless jams which should've been cut to half their lengths to keep 'em all killer/no filler. They weren't.
NYC Ghosts... is only 42 minutes long, and there's nothing I don't like about it. OK, there's the slightly bogue "streamXsonik subway", a wordy and repetitive jaunt w/ an annoying guitar line/melody which really doesn't work, but other than that barely-3-minute track, it's full of understated beauty. There's only 8 tracks and unlike their previous 5 albums, there's not an obvious alt-rock/mosh-pit anthem thrown in the mix for college radio, which may explain why it sunk from view fairly quick. What I find appealing about it is that none of the songs needlessly devolve into noise jams. Sonic Youth used to excel at noise jams; I don't think they have for quite a number of years now. I think they use it lazily. I saw them play here about 6 or 7 years ago - they were boring as hell - and just about every track they played devolved into a pointless noise jam before being resurrected at a moment's notice to lurch back into a chorus. Shit man, that was no noise jam at all! They've done that a thousand times! They know exactly what they're doing! To me it seemed fraudulent of them to even do such a thing. Well, maybe none of that is all that relevant is this particular review... NYC Ghosts... was recorded soon after the band's gear had been stolen, and the result is a stripped-back affair I can dig. Produced by the band and the soon-to-join Jim O'Rourke, for my moolah it's a neglected gem in their 16-album catalogue.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Brendan Mullen, D. Boon and Ray Pettibon, ca. 1981. I think this shot says a whole lot more than I ever could. A moment captured perfectly. Click on it for a better view.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Well, I guess I threatened some sort of Blue Note avant/hard-bop entry. I believe I have - ever-so-briefy - mentioned these records before, but they are both albums worth far more than just a cursory glance: pianist Andrew Hill's LPs from 1964 and 1965, respectively, Point Of Departure and Compulsion!!!!!. After a number of years digesting their wares I can conclude that they are both up "there" in whatever imaginary list of The Greatest Jazz Albums Of All Time. Give me a prod, and I will likely provide said list in a heartbeat...
I'll admit, I was only introduced to these two album c/o a workmate about 3 or 4 years ago, the genius of Hill having previously escaped my grasp. Andrew Hill was born in 1931 and left this mortal coil in 2007. He is mostly known for a series of excellent recordings he made for the Blue Note label in the 1960s. From the early '70s onwards, he dedicated much of his life to music teaching and the halls of academia, although he still recorded sporadically, and indeed some of these later recordings are well worth perusing (he even managed to tour Australia a number of years ago, and friends who saw him play said that his genius had not diminished). But for now I'll speak of his two recorded peaks...
Point Of Departure notably features the presence of one of my faves, Eric Dolphy, in what must've been one of his last recording dates (well, one of them, since he died in 1964), and that fits, since a lot of this album reminds me of early '60s Mingus, when Dolphy was in his ensemble, and Dolphy's own late recordings such as Out To Lunch and Iron Man. An 18-year-old Tony Williams hits the skins, Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham fill out the brass on sax and trumpet, respectively, and the overall sound is of a band of musicians in tune w/ each other, playing as an organic whole. The 12-minute opener, "Refuge", is the centrepiece of the record and features some great blasting from Dolphy on bass clarinet, and much like Mingus' platters from the same period, Point Of Departure is a record which really points forward to where a lot of exciting jazz was heading in the early/mid '60s, but one w/ a foot still caught in a late '50s hard-bop sound. It's still too loose and free-flowing to fall within a Third Stream realm (consult your Jazzosaurus Britannica, if you're feeling clueless), although it's also too composed (and composed) to reach the stratospheric ecstacy of, say, Ayler's Spiritual Unity, also released that year and also the most radical departure from traditional notions of "jazz" which had been made by anyone up to that point. But Point Of Departure is no middle-ground compromise: it is simply one of the most flat-out enjoyable, energised and many-layered slices of shazz you'll wrap your ears around, and one of the highpoints of its musical era.

And that brings us to 1965's Compulsion!!!!! (don't forget those exclamation marks), Hill's most far-out album of his career, a highpoint of Blue Note's extensive discography and a record which continues to blow my mind with each listen. It is, quite frankly, the kind of album which blows minds. Featuring the kind of line-up which breaks jazz boffins break out into a sweat reaching for the blood pressure pills - let's see, it has the mighty Freddie Hubbard on trumpet (a man who released and/or played on many fine discs in the '60s, though whose rep suffered by his bogus jazz-funk(!) moves in the '70s; the Arkestra's John Gilmore on sax (nuf sed); Cecil McBee (bassist extaordinaire, who shared stages & recordings w/ everyone from Yusef Lateef to Pharoah Sanders); Joe Chambers on drums (he hit skins for Dolphy, Mingus, Shepp and others); Richard Davis on bass (do I need to go on?! For MOJO readers, he's known for his work on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks); and - and this bit's important - the thumb piano/African drums/congas, as played by Nadi Qamar and Renaud Simmons (I don't have their respective CVs on me, but their contributions are crucial). Compulsion!!!!! works as a musical suite of sorts: there are only 4 tracks, just one being under 10 minutes (about 10 years ago, I was having an indepth discussion about jazz with a security guard; he made a very good point: when he sees that a "jazz" album has long tracks, he knows the music is going somewhere). Musically, it sounds a LOT like a mid '60s Cecil Taylor disc - Hill's playing is truly free-form, w/ lots of rapidfire cluster notes lending it a dense wall of sound - think Taylor's Blue Note recordings such as Unit Structures and Conquistador, mixed up w/ Sun Ra's sounds from the early '60s (think: Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy and Others Planes Of There). However, the added percussion adds propulsive rhythms which, when combined w/ Hill's cascading keys and wondrous sense of space from the brassmen (who never clutter the recording), make Compulsion!!!!! sound like no other "jazz" album released in its time. It's "out", it'll have squares running for the hills, but it remains an incredibly listenable disc. Or perhaps my tolerance levels for this kinda racket are simply through the roof these days. Andrew Hill never bettered these two albums, although I could also highly recommend his Black Fire, Dance With Death and Change LPs from the '60s. Blue Note/EMI is forever deleting then reissuing these albums, although Point Of Departure and Compulsion!!!!! appear to've been constantly in print for over the last decade and will set you back very little (you occasionally see them around Down Under for as little as $7.99 each). Considering the amount of joy you will gain from their presence in your life, that is a bargain.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Posts have been rare of late. I'm feeling stumped, truth be told. This blog is quite an exhaustive document of my listening habits the past 8 years, and indeed of late it appears to be a bit exhausted. Whilst I've been enjoying the sounds of old Blue Note hard-bop, regional '50s rockabilly comps, the electroid pulses of Actress and Porter Ricks and a stack of bossa nova tunes by the likes of Baden Powell, Joao Gilberto and Luiz Bonfa.... that doesn't necessarily mean I care to write about 'em, and it also more than likely means you don't wanna read about 'em. Shoot me a quick one-two in the comments box if you do want me to rave about this stuff, as I may be way off base. So let me take a detour and revisit an old band of yore I was very hot-to-trot for back in the early days of this blog. The UK band Electric Wizard were actually one of the key outfits I noted in the very first entry of this blog as being one I would be writing about in the future. I'm pretty sure I did... maybe once. Truth be told, from the years 2001-2005, Electric Wizard were one of my fave raves on the whole fuggin' planet. Along w/ Japan's Acid Mothers Temple, I rated them as the saviours of rock & roll as we knew it. At this point in history, I'm not convinced that rock can be saved anymore, or if it's even worth saving, but back then, as I entered my 30s, I still held an ounce of idealism within my rapidly ageing bones. Acid Mothers blew their wad w/ simply way too many releases - a number of them sub-par - which similarly blew their rep as a band of quality, and have since disappeared from most people's lips as a band worth noting within the past half-decade or more. It's a pity, because there are at least 10 absolutely brilliant Acid Mothers platters - I know, coz I still own them - but they're lost in a quagmire of toss-offs and mediocrity. One day, mark these words, the great Acid Mothers revival will hit planet earth, but it hasn't come yet.
Then there was Electric Wizard. When Dopethrone was released in late 2000, a record which even won the kudos of the chin-scratchin' nudniks at The Wire magazine (it was actually Edwin Pouncey who got the ball rolling), the lid was blown off and EW were no longer a secret for a small cabal of doom-metal freaks. And let's be honest - no, let me be honest - prior to that particular review, I had never bothered to give the band a spin. I was working at Missing Link, browsed the Wire wordage in question, scratched my chin and did my done duty: played the fuckin' CD. It blew my goddamn lid off. Dopethrone was a monumentally awesome slice of mega-heavy, loose-as-a-goose organic rock & roll which was ably spiced up w/ a drug-fuelled psychedelic bent and a kind of visual/lyrical aesthetic which seemed to borrow heavily from the yellow-toothed Limey school of horror a la Witchfinder General/Wicker Man/Hammer. It was an A-grade mix which captured a certain musical/lyrical/aesthetic vision that truly caught my imagination. In 2002 they released the similarly great Let Us Prey, a record which equalled Dopethrone in its sonic attack, and then the band started to face line-up changes and internal strife from chief member, Jus Oborn. Jus had formed the band in 1993 and already released two full-lengthers before Dopethrone found a wider audience for the group. There was 1995's Electric Wizard and 1997's Come My Fanatics, both released on Lee Dorian's Rise Above label.
But anyway, after 2004's We Live - the first disc w/ a reconfigured line-up (a 4-piece, as opposed to a trio, too) - an album I actually happened to like a lot, I didn't tend to pay them much mind. They toured here in, what, 2005 or '6? I saw them play at the shitawful venue, The Green Room, a depressing basement hellhole in the heart of Melbourne's crappiest backpacker/porn district, and I can barely remember what they were like. There are two reasons why this is so: A) I was probably drunk out of my skull; and B) whatever piddlehead brought the band out and booked their shows decided it would be a brilliant idea to put the band on headlining after, ooooh, maybe 5 or 6 identikit doom bands, each slogging out their mile-a-day sound until roughly 1AM in the morning when EW finally hit the stage and by that point in time you swore to the heavens THAT YOU NEVER WANTED TO HEAR ANOTHER DOOM BAND FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIVED. It left a sour taste in my mouth. The band didn't release another disc until 2007. By then I'd become the father of a baby girl and didn't much feel like listening to doom rock. I was walking on sunshine, baby, and that shit bummed me out. And so my EW CDs - that's their first 5 albums - have been sitting there on a rack in the spare room for the past 5 years collecting dust. That was until last week. When it was announced that the band would be one of the main attractions at the Roadburn festival in Holland next year, along w/ Godflesh (a band I liked quite a bit ca. 1990/'91, but haven't listened to in 20 years) and, most importantly of all, a top-10 faver of mine, the mighty Die Kreuzen, I pulled out my old copy of EW's first 2 discs, which are compiled together as a 2CD set on Rise Above, and gave Come My Fanatics a hearty spin. Along w/ Dopethrone, it's thee one to get. The debut from '95 is a blast in its own right, although it features a much tighter and more polished sound, comprising of angular riffs which sound like they could be lifted from the Melvins' Ozma platter (nothin' to sneeze at); but the approach of their sophomore effort is so vastly different, and indeed so much better, that it virtually sounds like a completely different band. There are only 6 tracks totalling a little over 50-odd minutes (there's 8 tracks on subsequent reissues: mine's a 1999 2CD set), and it's one of the greatest walls of noise emitted within the past 20 years. Jus and co. hammered out a relentless wall of fuzz, all framed within an inventive framework of riffery and rhythm. Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening, on bass/drums, respectively, keep the proceedings loose and jazzy like 1st-LP 'Sabbath, and Oborn's guitar hysteria is an orgy of drug-induced mania, outer-space solos and rifferama which digs all-new depths of, uh, what we shall call "heaviness".
I've picked my fave track from the set, "Ivixor B/Phase Inducer", as an example of its greatness. It is but one of six. I can't speak for what EW have become: they continue to write and record as I speak, and a few friends of mine still rate the band they are as very highly indeed, but I can speak of what they were. Certainly from the years 1997 - 2004, the peak years, if you will, they were up there w/ the best of 'em. Enough years have passed now that we can speak of "great bands of the early years of the 21st century", and Electric Wizard fit the bill, no? This track in question is from the late 20th century, but I think you get the point. For a number of years, the band was a high point for orgiastic, nihilistic rock music - all riffs, drugs and dimentia - and whilst I'm prone to dismissing such hedonism as not being conducive to music I'd want to hear in this lifetime, 'Wizard transcended whatever-the-fuck genre I speak of and made GREAT ROCK MUSIC we can all enjoy. The band were perfect for me back at the dawn of the naughties, the soundtrack to my reckless bong-hit existence of the time (or my "Charlie Sheen years", as one friend unkindly puts it), but even as a sensible teetotalling parent, an irredeemable square who prefers a quiet night in to a big night out, the band continues to hit the spot. It's 2012, and this noise still sounds good.